If the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t already cast enough of a pall over the upcoming holiday season, it’s going to take its toll on the Illinois Capitol, too.
There won’t be any holiday displays at the Capitol this year, either in the rotunda or outside on the dome.
"Due to the fact that the Capitol is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to forego erecting the Christmas tree this December as well as putting up temporary displays," said Henry Haupt, spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White.
For months, access to the building has been restricted to people who work in the Capitol and have state-issued identification cards. Public tours of the building were suspended months ago.
The lack of holiday displays isn’t limited to the inside of the Capitol, though. For the second year in a row, the popular lights strung on the Capitol dome won’t be part of the holidays.
Last year, the lights weren’t strung because they would have interfered with an engineering firm hired to inspect the dome for damage. Among the recommendations from the Bailey Edward firm was that an observation deck at the top of the dome should be fortified before the state resumed using it to anchor one end of the light strings.
"We are working with the Capital Development Board to procure funding for this project," Haupt said.
For years, the secretary of state’s office has put up a giant artificial tree in the rotunda. The tree is usually located in the south part of the rotunda and stretches from the first floor all the way to the second. It takes several workers hours to put up the tree and hang decorations on it. It, too, is a pandemic victim this year.
Last year, four temporary holiday displays were also part of the rotunda. This would have been the 13th year that the Illinois Capitol Nativity Scene would have been one of the displays.
Julie Zanoza of the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee said she wasn’t surprised when the state notified then that no displays will be allowed this year.
"I pretty much knew it wasn’t going to happen, not without all the restrictions," she said.
She said there are no plans to find an alternate location for the display.
"The display cost $7,000 so it’s not suitable for outdoors," she said.
Cancellation of indoor displays also means there will be no Wreaths Across America ceremony this year, Zanoza said. At the end of the ceremony each year to commemorate the nativity scene display, a wreath was placed by five flags representing the five military branches.
"It is absolutely disappointing, it’s heartbreaking," Zanoza said.
Zanoza said she still plans to place a small nativity scene that was given to her on the Logan County courthouse grounds. There won’t be a ceremony, she said, because of insurance requirements.
She said the nativity scene will return to the Capitol next year.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s display "Winter Solstice" would have had its 12th year in the rotunda. It was installed to provide "equal time" to the Christian Nativity scene. The display features a sign that includes "religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said many capitols where the FFRF has placed similar signs are closed this year.
"This seems like a very good move," she said. "We don’t want to bring people in to look at things when there is a pandemic going around. So long as there are no displays, we don’t need to be there to have an equal time display."
Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois had hoped to once again place a menorah among the holiday displays for Hanukkah. Rabbi Meir Moscowitz said that despite the different circumstances this year, it was important for the menorah to be there.
"There is symbolic value to having the menorah in a public place," Moscowitz said. "It’s a reminder of what the holiday represents, it’s a reminder of religious freedom and I think in today’s climate, on so many levels, it’s very encouraging and important to have this symbol of light, this symbol of positivity even more than ever."
Moscowitz said a search will be made to find a different location for the menorah in Springfield.
"We are looking for other safe options to place public menorahs," he said.
Moscowitz said the plan is to hold a virtual Hanukkah event for the General Assembly’s Jewish members on Dec. 10, the first night of Hanukkah.
"Since they’re not going to be in Springfield, we’re going to have them all join us via Zoom," he said.
The no-display rule in the rotunda also applies to arguably the most controversial of the holiday displays.
For two years, the Satanic Temple Chicago placed a display in the rotunda called "Knowledge is the Greatest Gift." It depicted the forearm of Eve with a snake coiled around it. Eve is holding an apple in her hand.
The Satanic Temple says it advocates "knowledge and rationality over superstition, ignorance and dogma."
A representative of the temple could not be reached for comment.
White’s office has allowed the diverse temporary displays as long as they are not financed with taxpayer dollars.
"Because the first floor of the Capitol rotunda is a public plan, state officials cannot legally censor the content of speech or displays," says a sign posted by the office. "The United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may legally impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions regarding displays and speeches, but no regulation can be based on the content of the speech."
Contact Doug Finke: firstname.lastname@example.org, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr
via Lincoln Courier
November 27, 2020 at 07:33AM